HM Treasury v Ahmed, 2009
This concerned the freezing of assets of suspected terrorists. The government had passed a Terrorism Order in 2006, allowing the Treasury to freeze assets. This was in order to comply with a UN rule, but it was a law made by Order in Council, i.e. by the Privy Council and without any sort of Parliamentary involvement. The Supreme Court ruled that the Order permitted HM Treasury to act ultra vires (beyond its power), and that this Order called into question the relationship between the executive and Parliament. The SC also said that
“Even in the face of the threat of international terrorism, the safety of the people is not the supreme law. We must be just as careful to guard against unrestrained encroachments on personal liberty.”
The government subsequently passed the (temporary) Terrorist Asset-Freezing Act (2010) to make it all legal. This shows that the SC, through the judicial review, can put pressure on the government to alter legislation.
Al Rawi, 2010
This concerned former Guantamo detainees. The SC ruled that courts cannot order a ‘closed material procedure’: the principle that each party, and lawyers, must see or hear all evidence and arguments presented to court is paramount.
Cadder v HM Advocate, 2010
This concerned legal procedure in Scotland. The SC ruled that detainees must be given a lawyer (in Scotland, they’re called advocates) before they give any statements to the police – statements which would be used in court. A law was subsequently passed allowing police to detain people for 12 hours instead of 6 (this would give more time to secure a lawyer). This case shows not only the SC upholding civil liberties, but causing legislative change, too.
The Belmarsh Case, 2001
The Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 was a knee-jerk reaction to 9/11. It allowed the detention without trial of terrorist suspects. The House of Lords (for this was before the SC was born) ruled that this was contrary to the ECHR/ HRA: no one, British or foreign, could be denied the right to a fair trial. The Lord Chief Justice at the time was the legendary Tom Bingham, one of the great judges of the 20th century.
The Dangerous Dogs Act, 1991
This badly-drafted piece of legislation (another knee-jerk response) outlawed certain ‘types’ of dog. The Act received a hammering in the courts in defining ‘type’, amongst other things. The courts were the first body able to scrutinise this law properly, as it had been rushed through Parliament.
Sentencing: the government has tried to control sentencing, but failed; the 2003 Criminal Justice Act allows judges to set their own minimum terms. Recently there have been new guidelines for magistrates on tougher sentencing.
Access to justice: the Grayling reforms have introduced court fees and cut legal aid. This means that seeking redress either in the criminal or in the civil courts is now quite expensive. In 2104, the criminal bar went on strike over the reduction of legal aid, and now many employment lawyers are seeing their practices dwindle.
ASBOs – BBC article here.